Monday, December 25, 2006


Mass for Sunday in the morning and Mass for Christmas in the evening. As I said to my children, we get a day-night doubleheader.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sing, choirs of angels …

I had the highlight of my Christmas yesterday. Took time out during the day to go to the primary school's carol service. Fantastic. There's nothing like hearing 300+ four to twelve year old children in a church belting out O Come All Ye Faithful, Away In A Manger, We Three Kings and many others. Appropriately, there was no mention of Santa Claus or sleigh bells.

During the service it struck me that my parents never had that opportunity. I can't say I didn't get a good education at our local public school, but I don't think there was ever anything as beautiful as that which I witnessed yesterday. I really wish I had a camcorder with me, although using those things always detracts from the experience.

Newshound issues

If you're looking for the Newshound this morning, sorry about that. Big problems at my hosting company. Actually, they say this is a 'planned migration' only I was never told.

Anyway, you can see something of a list for today at

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hey you, take that hat off

A school bus driver on Long Island was asked to take his hat off by his employer because it "bothered" one of his passengers.

This is ridiculous. I just don't see how this guy's hat can be in any way bothersome to a passenger. I'm occasionally offended by what people wear (such as the guy I saw in Bray not that long ago who had a shirt that said, "Girls. S*** this!" with an arrow pointing down), but a red fluffy hat? I don't know.

Mark Steyn praises Irish people's resistance to the anti-Christmas brigade in his latest column. Maybe he's trying to worm his way back into the Irish Times?

Happy 60th

Loving It's a Wonderful Life is almost cliché these days, but I love it anyway. I love quoting it. I love talking about it. I love the insights into a moment in history - the darkness of post-war America. I love the humor.

This week marks the 60th anniversary of its opening to a lukewarm reception across the US.

Direct debit

Never, never, never sign up for a direct debit. That's how I've always seen it and I'm not alone. I'm not sure if direct debit is available in the US these days, but it wasn't when I left.

I remember being horrified when I first learned about it. Give the phone/electricity/gas/whatever company access to go to my bank account and take what they'd like? Surely nobody would do that. Well, it seems many people do.

I guess a trusting soul would feel assured that the phone company would only take what it's owed each month, but I'm not a trusting soul. And, I know that mistakes happen.

For me it is today as it's always been - NO THANK YOU when I'm asked to set up a direct debit. I'll pay the bills when I'm ready and the amount I want to pay.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Google it for yourselves

In his column yesterday Tom McGurk almost dares the reader to google information about his topic. Fair enough, but would it have been too much trouble for him to have done the same?
After the Castro revolution in the late 1950s, the Kennedy administration decided that one socialist hero in Latin America was quite enough and there wasn’t going to be another. They set up a remarkable place called the College of the Americas, originally in Panama and later in Fort Bragg in Texas (Google it on the internet and read on).
I've said before I don't know a lot about the S. American politics during the Cold War and the US role in it. However, as soon as I read this I thought to myself, "Isn't Fort Bragg in N. Carolina"? And you know what? It is. It's in Fayetville, NC.

As for the College of the Americas, I didn't find a whole lot about that. What I did find told me that it was, apparently, located at Fort Benning, which is in Georgia. But, don't believe me, google it for yourself.

Friday, December 15, 2006

How's the weather in Clonakilty?

Twice in the past two days I've gotten calls from Talk Talk trying to sell me their phone service. Nothing strange there, but there's a new twist this time. Each call has come from someone with an Indian accent, but they tell me they're calling me from Clonakilty.

Yesterday, when I got the first call, I figured that it was simply a case that an Indian man had happened to be living in or near Clonakilty. But, two different Indian people in Clonakilty working for the same company calling me on consecutive days?

It's possible that these Indian people are living and working in Clonakilty, but I suspected not. So when 'Connie' finished explaining that she was calling from Clonakilty, I suddenly asked her how the weather was there today. She said it was beautiful. Hmmm. Maybe, but it's absolutely miserable here in Wicklow and according to Met Eireann it's not supposed to be that great in Clonakilty either.

Don't get me wrong. If there is a small Indian community in Clonakilty who are finding work at a Talk Talk call center, then good for them. However, I think Talk Talk is lying to me and that annoys me.

Ringaskiddy baseball

Is there another Ringaskiddy? I mean, other than the one in Co. Cork. The reason I ask is that the other day I got an e-mail from John Fitzgerald - The Emerald Diamond guy - directing me to this photograph. It's a picture of a baseball game from the 1920's and at the bottom it says "Baseball diamond, Ringaskiddy".

This is why I ask if there is more than one Ringaskiddy on Earth. Maybe one in the US or Canada? That would explain a lot. Look at the picture closely. This is no mere exhibition. You can see how the field is worn in a pattern familiar to anyone who knows baseball.

I find it hard to believe there was a baseball league in Ringaskiddy, Co. Cork back in the 20s. One possible explanation I could come up with was the US Navy. Did the US Navy have men stationed here during/after WWI? Other than that, I can think of no good reason to suspect that Ringaskiddy was a baseball hot-spot in the 1920s.

Two thumbs up

I can understand why so many people rave about A Christmas Story. I can also understand why my daughters don't like it. I enjoyed it, but I bet I'd like it even more if I were talking about it with my brothers. I can easily imagine the conversation and all the connections to what we did as kids.

It's definitely a movie for any man who fondly remembers being a boy. And, like I said yesterday, all those winter scenes are great for any of us men who've moved away from real winters. Who doesn't remember some kid getting his tongue stuck on a car door or mailbox or whatever?

Ralphie is a great character with his innocent face and constant scheming. The mother's patience and understanding are a little overdone, but good here. And, Mr. Parker. He was my favorite. I know I've seen him here and there over the years, but to me he's always been the Night Stalker. Now I'll probably think of him as "The Old Man".

It's the recognition and the honesty that makes the movie great. And, even if I didn't see me or my brothers in every scene, I'm not sure there was any scene where I couldn't remember a friend or a neighbor who fit the bill. I can't wait to watch it again, maybe with a brother or two.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bye bye BUPA

Spare me the arguments about risk equalisation. BUPA's decision to leave the Irish market is a disaster for Irish consumers. We had some semblance of competition in the health insurance market, but now we're back to none.

BUPA has 22% of the Irish market, but it's somehow been deemed to be dominant to the extent that it has been ordered to pay hundreds of millions to the VHI, which has seen its market share fall to 71% from what it was a decade ago (100%).

What should the Minister have done? How about wind up VHI? That would have been an open invite to other competitors to enter the Irish market and all would have been forced to offer their products at the same price to customers regardless of age, gender and/or health (that's community rating).

All Bran

Am I the only person who enjoys eating Kelloggs All Bran? The reason I ask is the way they sell the product makes me wonder if I should try something else. For a long time their ads featured old people talking about the benefits of eating All Bran. Whenever I saw these ads I felt like they were telling me that I'm starting my days with, basically, a bowl of milk of magnesia. Not a happy thought, but I got past that.

Now we're on to something new. The recent ads feature women - exclusively - most of whom are younger than I am. They all talk about how they sometimes feel "bloated" and how All Bran helps them with this. So now All Bran is some form of feminine product about which, of course, I should know nothing and should want to know nothing. It really is making me feel like I need to find a new cereal.

The end of winter?

I was watching A Christmas Story last night (more later) and thinking about all those scenes of snow, ice and cold. Made me nostalgic for winter. My kids have never really experienced it. That scene where the kid sticks his tongue to the metal pole, ahhh … That sort of cold.

Today's British newspapers are full of stories about how 2006 is the warmest year on record. I doubt it's much different here. We still haven't had a cold day and it's mid-December. There hasn't been any frost on the grass yet.

Like I said, I was thinking back to my childhood and the cold days of winter while I watched A Christmas Story. I was wondering if kids in my old neighborhood are having a good winter, but then I had a look at and I see that so far there's real no winter there either. No snow and no snow in the forecast. Not even a decent cold day.

Is this the future? Are we doomed to winterless existence thanks to global warming? And, will people mourn the passing of winter? I somehow doubt that too many people are going to be that upset if they don't have to endure the numbing cold that I'm nostaligic for. I guess those who run ski resorts will have to find new employment, but really how many people are going to miss winter?

I guess if I need to experience winter, I could always go to Edmonton.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Best dictator of the century

I like this column from John O'Sullivan. I can't really assess it for accuracy, but I like how he compares the policies and tallies up the dead of the 20th century's dictators to arrive at the conclusion that Augusto Pinochet was "the most successful dictator" of the 20th century.

He doesn't claim that the deaths are excusable, but simply compares a selection of the century's dictators and how they're perceived in the media.
It should be clearly understood that there is no connection between the 3,000 murders and Chile's economic success — any more than between the tens of thousands murdered by Franco after the civil war and the subsequent modernization of the Spanish economy. Murder and torture — contra Lenin — are not economic weapons. If murder and torture were employed in Chile, as they were by the forces of both Allende and Pinochet in its civil war, then an even-handed justice should have pursued both or an amnesty should have protected both. Pinochet cannot cite economic growth statistics in a murder trial.

Yet if that number of deaths had produced those results in Stalin's Russia or Mao's China or Castro's Cuba, we would be constantly assured that the murders were historically justified by the subsequent prosperity. Eric Hobsbawm, the distinguished British Marxist historian (who holds the high rank of Companion of Honour), goes to the extent of arguing that Stalin's murders were justified even though the prosperity never materialized. Uncle Joe's good intentions were enough.
If he's got his facts wrong, then he's got his facts wrong. I don't know enough about Pinochet to discuss that. What I like is his attempt to show that there's a double standard in how various dictators are judged. Even today there's been little effort to defend Pinochet while we are simultaneously sending best wishes to Fidel Castro. The passing of each is to be welcomed as far as I'm concerned.

"Christmas" comes and goes

The Daily Telegraph has been highlighting what it claims is the disappearance of Christmas in Britain. The Telegraph says references to the nativity are more often than not absent on Christmas cards and Christmas is disappearing from the British store front.

I noticed that the big windows were uninteresting last week when I was there, but I just figured that was because there are so few children in the UK. I just assumed adults were more attracted to the displays I saw rather than those with Santa, elves, reindeer, etc. I didn't think it had anything to do with trying not to offend non-Christians.

As for the nativity-less cards, again, I would have thought this unsurprising for a nation that, for the most part, is post-Christian. Fewer than 5% of those in the majority denomination attend church in any given week. Only a third of all British people consider religion important.

So, it's hardly shocking that many people prefer non-Christian Christmas cards. I'm not sure what Christmas means to those who don't consider religion important, but if that's what they want then that's what they want.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Christmas is making a come back according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Signs have appeared of a "return of Christmas" in the culture. Big-time retailers including Wal-Mart, Macy's, Target, and Kohl's have responded to demands to resurrect a "Merry Christmas" theme in their stores. More cities are approving the inclusion of nativity scenes in holiday displays on public property.
Update: I was thinking about this and I just don't see that a nativity scene on the card is a huge issue, really. My own cards come from a batch that contains nativity, Santa and winter themed cards. It's pure chance as to who gets which.

Please take me back, RTE

Okay, okay, I admit it. I ADMIT IT. I have abandoned Newstalk, at least during the week. I don't listen to their morning or lunch time news programs any more. I was never a regular in the morning, but whenever I did get a chance to listen to the radio from 7am, it would have been Newstalk. From the day that station was born I put up with ineptitude and political bias because I was just so happy to have an alternative to RTE. Newstalk was different and much better in particular dealing with business and economic issues. But that's no longer the case.

These days Newstalk could be more usefully known as Kidstalk. The ineptitude and bias are still there but with Ger Gilroy in the mornings and Eamon Keane from 12:30 we also get the manners of a spoiled, know-it-all child. I just can't take it. I've gone back to RTE, but I'm not happy about that either.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

FR 202

I flew Ryanair for last week's trip to London. You just cannot beat their prices. But, I am curious to see how poor their customer service can get before people figure that they'll pay a bit more to use a rival airline.

The seats on the flight I was on were the narrowest I've ever had to use. And, there was insufficient leg room to allow me to get my legs in front of me. Now, I'm neither tall (just under 5'11") nor fat (about 177lbs) so I wouldn't have thought that I would be 'over-sized' for any airline, but I was pretty close the other day. Ryanair's seats don't recline and have a hard plastic back which makes it impossible to wriggle yourself into anything like a comfortable position. I could put up with it for one hour, but I honestly don't know if I could do two.

There are also no pockets on the seat-backs, which means there are no sick bags. This usually wouldn't occur to me, but due to the bad weather our flight was very bumpy and one of the children was looking fairly green around the gills. Fortunately, we landed without anybody losing their breakfast.

If I were traveling alone, I'd certainly pay a premium for more comfort. How much more? I can't say until the time to travel comes again.

Thanks, Dick

From today's Irish Independent:
ENVIRONMENT Minister Dick Roche has lavished his home town of Bray with a massive increase in funding.
Dick, that check for €100 was worth the vote I cast in your favor last time out. You can count on me again that's for sure. {Maybe €150 next year? The price of those PlayStation games sure goes up fast.} Gee it's wonderful having the Environment Minister come from your town.

Monday, December 11, 2006

London tornado

I was in London on Thursday, the day of the tornado. I was in London with the whole family on one of our exhausting days of touring. We were near the Tower of London when I saw the sky darkening to the northwest. A few minutes later and we were in the middle of a good thunderstorm. Thunder and lightning, but nothing that I would have considered extreme. No hail, no vicious winds such as I've experienced during severe storms at home. I couldn't believe it when I saw some evening papers later that day talking about homes wrecked by a tornado only five miles from where we were walking around.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Playing for a draw

The 'beautiful game'. Ha! I'm watching the final seconds of what is an embarrassing sporting spectacle. The fans are booing both teams for making no effort to score because both teams need only 1 point to move on. I know people here often laugh at Americans' inability to accept ties (draws), but you know what? At least that prevents the kind of garbage that Porto and Arsenal have provided this evening.

Oh, it's over now. 0-0. The referee ended the game out of pity for the viewers and those poor fans who paid to get into the stadium for this game. They should demand a refund.

A Christmas Story

I love Christmas movies. I've seen my two favorites - It's A Wonderful Life & Miracle on 34th Street - many, many times. I've seen many others too, including quite a few of the more "recent" (that is, color) ones. The Santa Clause, Santa Claus the Movie, Jack Frost are three that come to mind right now.

One movie I've never watched is A Christmas Story. And, funny enough we have the video in the house. One of my brothers bought it for the children, but they didn't like it and I never thought about putting it on for me. Maybe I should do that?

Today's NY Times compares the movie to It's A Wonderful Life in popularity. Wouldn't have thought so, but the house that featured in the movie is now a museum and expects 50,000 visitors annually. Of course, there's always the possibility that those tourists who for some reason find themselves in Cleveland go to this house because there isn't a whole lot to do there. Still, 50,000 is a lot of people.

Nail-biting time

Setanta Sports is selling NASN. Before NASN was launched us European-resident baseball (& hockey & basketball & football) fans had to live without television coverage. Today, of course, you can watch on the PC, but the quality is nothing like a genuine television signal coming into a television. Someday, maybe, but not yet.

So, now NASN has been sold to ESPN, which is well known to all American sports fans. There are three reasons I'm uneasy about this deal:
  1. if ESPN is looking to develop a big presence in Europe I don't really see how offering what is not much more than a service for expatriate Americans & Canadians is helping them in this regard

  2. Setanta has in the past few months begun using its other channels to broadcast extra American sports programming after midnight, which allows us to choose which game we want. I can't see this arrangement being continued

  3. Setanta's deal with my cable company - NTL - has kept the subscription down below what others pay for NASN. Again, I doubt this will continue when ESPN takes over.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tickets please

I see that a parish in Dublin has decided that its Christmas Eve Mass is to be a ticket-only affair. Apparently some people in the parish are none-too-happy about this. I can understand why people find this a bizarre and irritating step, but the Christmas Eve Mass in our parish has been dangerously crowded the past few years and obviously it's not much different in Rush, Co. Dublin.

Every family with young children wants to go to Mass the night before Christmas because it's nearly impossible to drag them away from the goodies on Christmas Day. That makes the early Christmas Eve Mass far too popular. Personally, I'd prefer to go to Midnight Mass, but that's simply not possible with young children.

I like the fact that the parish tried to reward those who attend more regularly by announcing the ticket policy in the church bulletin and distributing the tickets this past weekend. Maybe it could have been handled better, but there should be some reward for turning up more than once a year.

Still, I can't help wondering if the scalpers (touts) will make a killing on the tickets for Mass. "Who needs tickets?" might be the only thing heard outside the Church before Mass.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Gas project

One thing I spent some time over a few nights trying to verify was this often voiced claim from Bord Gais, "Natural gas prices in Ireland are already below the EU average …"

I decided to see if I could find any evidence that this was true or not, but I couldn't. I guess I'll just have to take their word for it.

What I can say is that it's not easy to find out what any power company is charging for natural gas. They clearly don't want people doing too much looking around. I found one UK company that was easy to see was charging less per kWh than Bord Gais, but there may be other costs that I'm not seeing.

I can say that compared with the rates charged by the local power company where I grew up, Bord Gais is charging an absolute fortune.

Niagara Mowhawk charges 1.19¢ per kWh, which equates to €0.0089 per kWh. Bord Gais is charging me €.04005 (5.34¢) per kWh. NiMo's connection charge is $29.42 (€22.07) for every two months and that includes 3 therms (87.93kWh). That compares with Bord Gais's supply charge of €57.14 ($76.23), which includes no gas usage.

Okay, so the cost of gas is more here. A LOT MORE. 349% more. [It will be just over 300% more when we get our big reduction.] But, okay, supply and demand and all that. But, what about the supply charges? Why is Bord Gais's supply charge 159% greater than NiMo's? (And let's just ignore those three therms.)

Now, I know that all these gas companies have all sorts of tariffs, etc. that confuse the picture, but I'm comparing the standard charge here with what looks like pretty much the only possible tariff with NiMO. 159%! That's a big difference.

{There were a lot of conversions here. Feel free to check my figures. I used for exchange rates and this page to convert therms to kWh.}


I think that's the word that describes our weather the past two days. Inclement: (of the weather, the elements, etc.) severe, rough, or harsh; stormy. Yes, that just about describes it. I was thinking of going out for a stroll just so I could "take a walk on the wild side".

Pass the smelling salts

I cannot believe that Bord Gais is going to LOWER its price by 10%. Of course, that reduction doesn't come into effect until February 1 allowing BG plenty of time to fleece us over the next two cold months. Still it's something, right? I can hardly believe that our state-owned monopoly is going to reduce its prices. Shock.

Honoring Ronnie

RTE2 is showing a special program on gold medalist Ronnie Delany at 7:30 tonight. It's fifty years since he won his gold medal in Melbourne. I hope I get a chance to watch.

Delany is the only Irishman to win an Olympic gold on the track. He was also a star at Villanova in the 50s and they haven't forgotten him there either. There's a nice article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.
A 21-year-old economics undergraduate at Villanova, Delany became the last Irish athlete to win an Olympic track-and-field gold medal. Fifty years ago today, he captured the 1,500 meters on a warm, sunny afternoon at the Melbourne Games.

To put his achievement into context, he was competing in the most keenly contested event in the Olympic program during a golden age for middle-distance running.

Only two years earlier, England's Roger Bannister had achieved what many thought was impossible: the first sub-four-minute mile. And as a measure of how far the event had progressed by June 1956, Delany had become the seventh man to dip below that magic barrier at a meet in Compton, Calif.